In early August, several of the world’s largest banks, such as Citigroup and Wells Fargo, signed off on a $2.5 billion loan to help complete a pipeline– one that is very close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Environmentalists and environmental groups are urging the banks to stop any further loans toward the project as the Sioux claim it is threatening their sacred lands and water supply.
The fossil fuel industry play a particularly large role in carbon emissions, and environmentalists have turned their attention and action toward the financiers behind such operations as oil and gas projects and coal financial support.
Johan Rijns, the director of BankTrack, a Netherlands-based advocacy group claims that, “Banks have a choice to either finance the transition to renewable energy, or to finance pipelines and power plants that will lock us into fossil fuels for the next 40 years […] If we’re serious about fighting climate change, we can’t continue to finance fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind” (Tabuchi, 2016).
There is question also regarding the profitability of the Dakota pipeline– during a time in which oil prices are slumping significantly.
“If the scenarios around demand for oil is wrong, it’s likely that people are building costly infrastructure on a false promise – that the oil is going to be needed in 30 to 40 years” (Tabuchi, 2016).
While Citigroup has already raised it’s concerns over the project, Wells Fargo, TD bank, Mizuho, and the Bank of Tokyo either declined to comment, or could not be reached.
I believe that the actions of the large banks presents us with a case of a Ring of Gyges situation. According to Glaucon, both just and unjust men proceed along the same path– that is, follow their interest, which all creatures instinctively do and pursue as good. Glaucon claims that force of law is necessary to compel them to respect equality and fairness.
The tale of the Ring of Gyges goes such as this: A shepherd in the service of the reigning king of Lydia one day stumbled upon a ring, after a great storm and earthquake tore the earth open– revealing a tomb. From the corpse, Gyges took a golden ring. He soon discovered that the ring granted the ability of invisibility to its wearer simply by turning the collet of the ring to the inside of the wearer’s hand. He ultimately seduced the queen and convinced her to conspire against the king. He slew him, and took the kingdom as his own.
To Glaucon, this presents a situation in which he argues no man could avoid temptation, if he had absolutely no chance of being caught. No man would “stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own where he could safely take what he liked” (Plato, 2013). According to him, men believe injustice to be far more profitable than justice.
These large banks act how they will as they believe they are too big and too powerful to be caught. Their actions go against the people’s wishes, and clearly violate the rights and wishes of the people most affected, and yet being so large, no single person can be held accountable. They hide behind their size and stature, a status that in a sense creates a cloak of invisibility. Those opposing such acts as the funding of this massive pipeline fight valiantly and voice their opposition tremendously– however, often to no avail. Without a singular target, it is often difficult to change the questionable actions such as those of the large banks behind the pipeline. It seems as though Glaucon was right about many, perhaps not all, but so great a number that his presumption about man is not entirely incorrect. It seems that they are, indeed, motivated by pleasure and that injustice seems more profitable– as it is likely profit that motivates such actions as these– actions that harm many and seemingly do no good more than potentially producing greater profit for the investors involved.
Plato, C. J. Emlyn-Jones, and William Preddy. Plato, Republic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2013. Print.
Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Environmentalists Target Bankers Behind Pipeline.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.